ROCKFORD – Tee-K Kelly had an inkling this would be his week at the 83rd Illinois State Amateur golf championship at Aldeen Golf Club.
“I told my Dad on the first day that this was the most nervous I’ve been in a long time, because I knew I had a shot to win,’’ he said. “And a couple weeks ago I made it my goal to win the State Am and the State Open back-to-back as an amateur.’’
Now Kelly is halfway there. He won the three-day Amateur on Thursday and can complete the sweep next week in the 64th Illinois Open, which tees off on Monday at The Glen Club in Glenview. The only player to win both titles in the same year was David Ogrin in 1980.
On Thursday Kelly overcame two rivals who owned two-stroke leads during final round before posting his 7-under-par 281 total for the tourney’s 72 holes. Kelly had a three-stroke edge on Springfield’s Jake Erickson, a recent Southern Illinois University graduate, and Lincolnshire’s Jack Watson, who will enter his junior season at Wisconsin in the fall..
Erickson was up two after seven holes, but put his tee shot in the water at No. 8 and made double bogey. Watson, Kelly’s playing partner, was two ahead with six to play when he splashed his tee shot at the par-3 13th and made triple bogey.
Kelly hit a 7-iron tee shot from 179 yards to eight feet at the same hole and made the birdie putt, creating a four-shot swing that put Kelly at the top of the leaderboard.
“I could tell things got a little more edgy at that point,’’ said Kelly, who completed a less-than-satisfactory freshman season at Ohio State in the spring after being named Co-Player of the Year in the DuPage Valley Conference as a high school senior at Wheaton-Warrenville South.
“I got off to a hot start (at Ohio State) in the fall,’’ said Kelly, “but I struggled with my swing in the spring. It put a lot of doubt in my mind.’’
He was able to work through those doubts at his home club, Medinah, and won his biggest title yet on Thursday. His mother, Blue Kinander Kelly, also grew up at the club that hosted last September’s Ryder Cup matches. She helped Tulsa to an NCAA title in 1988 before winning the Chicago Women’s District Golf Assn. championship seven times.
For Watson the letdown on the final nine produced a feeling of déjà vu. In last year’s State Am he played in the final group in the last round and shot 78 as Glenview’s Quinn Prchal took the title a few weeks before entering his freshman year at Princeton University. Prchal tied for seventh in his title defense.
“Unfortunately a bitter taste again,’’ said Watson, who sat out last year’s college season after making his third transfer. He started at Kansas State, then went to Kent State. He’ll have two seasons of eligibility with the Badgers.